Porto was totally wonderful. The great weather helped – it was cold in the mornings, with mist blowing along the river – but with clear skies it warmed up nicely by lunchtime and Porto looks even better in sunlight.
We took the bus in to town from our campsite which was up the Douro River– full with kids going to school and moustachioed women going to work – €5 and something for two, each way, for a forty minute trip. This meant that we could both stare out of the windows and not worry about the narrow bits.
We started with a coffee and nata – custard tarts in puff pastry which have been caramelised. Delicious.
Porto has lots of ups and downs, is old and tatty, but it is also very pretty and colourful. Even the facades on the main streets in the old city are knackered – if you go up one of the (very) narrow side streets you go back about 100 years for every 100 yards, and the air is full of delicious smells as the restaurants gear up for lunch.
To get a handle on the place we took an open-top tourist bus which had an English commentary which only worked for about two-thirds of the time but was very useful in pointing out the main places to see, and it also took the weight off our feet.
We got off the bus on the northern shore of the Douro (Vila Nova Da Gaia) where all of the Port factories are located and had lunch in a small café where the menu da dia was €12.50, including a bottle of wine. We both had soup, steak and chips, a peeled orange and coffee, plus the wine. All for about 17 quid – amazing. You can go on guided tours of the Port factories but we have visited wineries on several continents already so gave this a miss.
We then headed back to the bus terminus, across the Ponte Luis I and taking the funicular up the steep hill on the southern side. This has an automatic ticket machine but it does not appear to be a success: there were instructions in English but it was not clear what you had to do next so the rather school-teachery woman in charge came across and pressed all of the right buttons and told us when to put the money in and where to go with the tickets. Since the latter was mainly in Portuguese we remained uncertain about what to do, and attempted to go through the ticket barrier. This prompted a loud “No!” from the school-teacher lady, who was by then assisting some locals with the their tickets – the Portuguese instructions were clearly no better. If she hadn’t been so busy I reckon she would have made us stand on the naughty step for a while.
On our second visit , we started with the market which was wonderfully old-fashioned: lots of fruit and veg, flowers, meat (including pig cheeks which we had heard of but never seen before) and bread, and full of bandy-legged old ladies with men’s socks on. We bought a small loaf for our dinner, plus a kilo of apples (80 cents) and some big vine toms. We then went up St Catarina which is the posh shopping street, and found a huge three-level mall hidden behind a small romanesque entrance. We also looked at the railway station which has an excellent tiled interior. Then it was on to the Cathedral up the windy hill, and across the Ponte Luis I via the upper level, providing wonderful views of both the Ribeira and Gaia sides of the river. Gilroy was leaning on the rail watching a tram come along and only at the last minute did he realise how close it was going to be – it only missed him by a couple of inches. Once across the river we went up to the Mostario which is now occupied by the army. More wonderful views, but by this time feet were beginning to suffer so we wandered down the hill via steps and small streets. It really felt – and looked like – some third world town. At one place a woman was loading some sardines on to a small charcoal brazier which was perched on a wall across the road from her house. The main surprise here was that she didn’t seem too bothered by the huge seagulls which were lurking nearby and showing considerable interest in the fish. Further down the hill and old woman had her street-level windows wide open and music playing very loudly while she watched the world go by, and the world looked into her incredibly crowded little front room.
We had lunch in one of the new steel and glass restaurants next to the river – no cheap menu del dia but we started with the bread and dips and then Sheila had a huge salad with Kiwi fruit, pineapple, mango and orange plus lettuce and grated carrot, ham, cheese and prawns. Gilroy had grilled cod, which came with vast numbers of boiled new potatoes, all swimming in olive oil, onions and grilled peppers. All of that, plus a half bottle of red and two coffees came to €36 – say ₤25.
Too stuffed to move far after that, so we wandered down and got one of the port-barrel tour boats for a 50-minute cruise up the river and down almost to the river mouth. No commentary, but we knew most of the sights by then.
We visited Porto again in 2015, nothing seemed to have changed but this time stayed at Camping Marisol in Guaia, on the other side of the river. Campsite itself was a bit cramped but a bus stopped nearby that would take you in to Porto, the campsite staff were very helpful and informative in explaining where the bus stopped and where you picked it up again etc.
Having a car we were able to find a nearby train station and go by train which took us into the magnificent São Bento station with its tiled walls.